It's just the ticket for presidential trivia buffs

February 15, 2004|By Joseph R. L. Sterne

ALL THIS TALK about a Kerry-Edwards team in November has presidential trivia addicts reaching for the champagne and at the ready to pop the cork.

Only once in the history of the Republic has the political system produced a president and a vice president bearing the same first name. The precedent-setters were John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun, both chosen by the House of Representatives in 1824 after a deadlock in the Electoral College. At the time there was only one viable party because of the disintegration of the Federalists once led by JQA's father, John Adams.

This time, if the Democrats field a ticket of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, it will be a first for one of the major political parties. By picking not one but two Johns, they also will be creating the potential for a Super Bowl tie in presidential first names.

The winners right now are the Jameses. No less than six presidents bear this moniker: James Madison, James Monroe, James Buchanan, James Polk, James Garfield and James Earl Carter. Runners up are four Williams (William Henry Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and William J. Clinton) and four Johns (the Adamses -- father and son -- plus John Tyler and John F. Kennedy.

If both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards eventually succeed to the presidency, that would put Johns in a tie for first place with the Jameses.

Not only that, John F. Kerry would be the first president in history to bear the same initials as one of his predecessors. Will the headline writers dare to resurrect "JFK" again?

Enough of such minor trivia.

The moment has come to get to the really serious trivia. Only once before have two sitting senators simultaneously moved directly into the presidential and vice presidential slots. Who were they? John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961. Mr. Kennedy, moreover, was one of only two 20th century sitting senators elected to the White House. The other was the unlamented Warren G. Harding.

If Mr. Kerry gains the Democratic nomination and goes on to defeat incumbent George W. Bush, he will lend credence to the theory that the U.S. Senate is at least a plausible launching pad to the nation's highest office. It has not always been thus assessed.

From Teddy Roosevelt through Franklin Roosevelt, only one senator made it to the White House (Mr. Harding), and he hardly advanced the reputation of the world's greatest deliberative body. After Richard Nixon, a former senator, resigned in disgrace nearly 30 years ago, the country turned to six successive presidents (Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) untainted or unblessed with service in the Senate.

During this primary season, be it noted, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has not been shy about bragging that governors learn a lot more about governing than do mere legislators. And it looked, for a while, that he might beat no less than four senators -- Bob Graham, Joseph I. Lieberman, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards -- in the race for the Democratic nomination.

No longer. Unless President Bush makes mush of all this trivial speculation by winning re-election in November, the Senate may once again establish its potency as a training ground for the presidency.

Joseph R. L. Sterne, a former editorial page editor of The Sun, is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.